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Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Forest Molecular Genetics and Biotechnology (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science

First Advisor

Victor B Busov


Gibberellin (GA) is a growth promoting hormone implicated in regulating a diversity of plant processes. This dissertation examines the role of GA metabolic and signaling genes in woody plant growth and development. Transgenic modifications, expression analysis, physiological/biochemical assays, biometric measurements and histological analysis were used to understand the regulatory roles these genes play in the model woody plant, Populus. Our results highlight the importance of GA regulatory genes in woody perennial growth, including: phenology, wood formation, phenotypic plasticity, and growth/survival under field conditions.

We characterize two putative Populus orthologs of the SHORT INTERNODES (SHI) gene from Arabidopsis, a negative regulator of GA signaling. RNAi-mediated suppression of Populus SHI-like genes increased several growth-related traits, including extent of xylem proliferation, in a dose-dependent manner.

Three Populus genes, sharing sequence homology to the positive regulator of GA signaling gene PHOTOPERIOD-RESPONSIVE 1 (PHOR1) from Solanum, are up-regulated in GA-deficient and insensitive plants suggesting a conserved role in GA signaling. We demonstrate that Populus PHOR1-like genes have overlapping and divergent function(s). Two PHOR1-like genes are highly expressed in roots, predominantly affect root growth (e.g., morphology, starch quantity and gravitropism), and induced by short-days (SD). The other PHOR1-like gene is ubiquitously expressed with a generalized function in root and shoot development.

The effects of GA catabolic and signaling genes on important traits (e.g., adaptive and productivity traits) were studied in a multi-year field trial. Transgenics overexpressing GA 2-oxidase (GA2ox) and DELLA genes showed tremendous variation in growth, form, foliage, and phenology (i.e., vegetative and reproductive). Observed gradients in trait modifications were correlated to transgene expression levels, in a manner suggesting a dose-dependent relationship.

We explore GA2ox and DELLA genes involvement in mediating growth responses to immediate short-term drought stress, and SD photoperiods, signaling prolonged periods of stress (e.g., winter bud dormancy). GA2ox and DELLA genes show substantial up-regulation in response to drought and SDs. Transgenics overexpressing homologs of these genes subjected to drought and SD photoperiods show hypersensitive growth restraint and increased stress resistances. These results suggest growth cessation (i.e., dormancy) in response to adverse conditions is mediated by GA regulatory genes.